EDEV_505 Week 3_3

You ask some very intriguing questions about my teaching context. To answer them all fully would take a monograph, and as this week is about policy, I’ll try to relate my answer to the limited scope of how policy effects curricular choices.

Let’s start with the trivial answers to your questions. You ask;

“What needs or interests does you school see is fulfilled for students offering these courses?” (Van Melle, 2016)

In Japan, there is a general consensus that ‘international’ means ‘English’. Although the Ministry does not compel any HE (or at the secondary level, either) to learn English, per se, the vast majority of institutions equate the need for a foreign language as the need for English (Aspinall, 2013; Poole, 2010). I suspect that this is the case for many countries. However, in Japan’s case, there is a policy of protectionism against foreign ideas and practices (Aspinall, 2010). Foreign professors working at a Japanese university, for example, need to be proficient in Japanese, and medical professionals who wish to practice in Japan have to pass the Japanese licencing tests in Japanese (Aspinall, 2010). It is unlikely that those who are not immersed in Japan will attain these positions, and the process of immersion is likely to lead to a high degree of assimilation of Japanese ideals with the erstwhile foreign ideas. Japan’s reaction to the increased porosity prevalent in the modern world (Ninnes & Hellstén, 2005) is to revert to more insular policies.Furthermore, the outside world is seen as being a “risky and scary place” (Aspinall, 2010, p. 5), and foreign elements have to be carefully vetted before allowed admission. A recent example of this was seen when Pokemon Go was introduced to Japan a week later than in other countries; the reason for the delay given that Pokemon Go was dangerous (Otake, 2016). This points to the “friendly authoritarianism” ever-present in the relationship between social superiors and inferiors in Japan (Sugimoto, 2014). In summary, the needs or interests students may or may not have is far less of import than what the authorities feel that students need. And probably this view is accurate. If everything a young person learns about ‘abroad’ is always filtered through highly circumscribed media or educational sources, that person learns to subjugate their worldview towards that of the authority’s.

Your second question;

“How would this work out in Japan when it comes to accreditation and serving students’ interests when giving them high grades?” (Van Melle, 2016)

is best answered by McVeigh who notes that;

“At such schools, there is no problem of grade inflation because for all intents and purposes there is very little evaluation (i.e., everyone passes regardless of performance), unless one counts merely coming to class (and nothing else) as an appropriate method of academic evaluation” (McVeigh, 2002, p. 28)

I’ve written this on these boards before, but the main indication of the quality of a Japanese undergraduate degree is the name of the institution. Just getting into an elite HEI is considered sufficient for employers to regard that individual as having the qualities necessary to make them valuable employees (Cutts, 1997; McVeigh, 2002; Poole, 2010). The issue of using the fuller grade spectrum that is current in my HEI is more to do with avoiding potential accusations of inter-teacher imparity than of grade inflation or about the quality of the degree itself.

So far, I’ve addressed your questions at a trivial level. I’d like to offer some more analysis at the policy level.

Policies differ from legislation in that they have no legal power. Policies have teeth only to the extent that they can co-ordinate the mechanics of social power. To borrow an idea from Bourdieu (cited in Lingard, 2009), policy operates in policy fields; structures containing stakeholders who share interests in the policy in regards to “who benefits, for what purpose and who pays” (Bell & Stevenson, 2006, p. 9). If coercive power is used (Raven, 1992) through, for example, the threat of research funds being withheld, those in the policy field who may suffer are coerced into complying with the policy. Yet, the analysis of policy may reveal differences in interpretational action between those who set the initial version and the final, on-the-ground realisation of the policy in any particular HEI. Many gaps can be observed between leadership theory and practice (Middlehurst, 2008), gaps that can be accounted for partially by considering the values and cultures of stakeholders at different levels in the policy field. In terms of leadership theory, context is seen less as a factor in decision making but is more constitutive of leadership practice (Middlehurst, 2008). In other words, the context can be viewed as an agentive stakeholder in the policy field. In the Japanese situation, Confucius, although long dead, and Confucian ideals remain agentive (Aoki, 2008; Tweed & Lehman, 2002). In practical terms, the threats of loss of face and ostracisation exert enough force to coerce Japanese HEIs into compliance.

There are other potential answers to your questions, but to begin them, this module would need to be refocussed onto notions of social psychology.


Aoki, K. (2008). Confucius vs. Socrates: The Impact of Educational Traditions of East and West in a Global Age. The International Journal of Learning, 14(11).

Aspinall, R. W. (2010). CRR DISCUSSION PAPER SERIES Education Reform in Japan in an Era of Internationalization and Risk. CRR Discussion Papers, A-3(December).

Aspinall, R. W. (2013). International education policy in Japan in an age of globalisation and risk. Boston: Brill.

Bell, L., & Stevenson, H. (2006). Education Policy: Education Policy Process, Themes and Impact. London and New York: Routledge. Retrieved from http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/1851/1/Ed_Policy_book_proofs.pdf

Cutts, Robert L. 1997. An Empire of Schools: Japan’s Universities and the Molding of a National Power Elite. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Lingard, B. (2009). Researching Education Policy in a Globalized World: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 108(2), 226–246. doi:10.1111/j.1744-7984.2009.01170.x

McVeigh, B. J. (2002). Japanese Higher Education as Myth. Armonk: East Gate. doi:10.1353/jjs.2004.0010

Middlehurst, R. (2008). Not enough science or not enough learning? Exploring the gaps between leadership theory and practice. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), 322–339. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2273.2008.00397.x

Ninnes, P., & Hellstén, M. (2005). Internationalizing Higher Education. Critical Explorations of Pedagogy and Policy. Dordrecht: Springer & The Comparative Education Research Centre University of Hong Kong. doi:10.1073/pnas.0703993104

Otake, T. (2016, July 20). Warnings issued ahead of Japan release of ‘Pokemon Go’. Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/07/21/national/usage-warnings-issued-ahead-japan-release-pokemon-go/#.V5XO1zt95Zg

Poole, G. S. (2010). The Japanese Professor: An Ethnography of a University Faculty. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Retrieved from PDF e-book

Raven, B. H. (1992). The bases of power: Origins and recent developments. A presentation in honor of John R. P. French on the occasion of his receiving the Kurt Lewin award. Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, 2–33. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=ED351648&site=eds-live&scope=site

Sugimoto, Y. (2014). An Introduction to Japanese Society, Second Edition, 1, 5–8. doi:10.1080/03637756509375425

Tweed, R. G., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Learning considered within a cultural context. Confucian and Socratic approaches. The American Psychologist, 57(2), 89–99. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.57.2.89

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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